Aesthetic Realism is a cult

  Who they are, how they operate • Written by former members

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Aesthetic Realism's double-page ad in the New York Times

Here's what they blew a third of a million dollars on



     The Aesthetic Realists haven taken out huge ads in major newspapers several times to promote AR. The first was a full-page ad in the NY Times in 1976. The second was an ad to trumpet their "gay cure", which appeared in the NY Times three times from 1978-79, and once each in the Washington Post and LA Times. But by far the most ambitious was the following double-page spread in the New York Times on January 10, 1990. Looking up the Times' ad rates right now, it looks like the Aesthetic Realists blew nearly a third of a million dollars to get their message out. And what did they use this unique opportunity to tell the world? Pretty much what you'd expect, things like "Eli Siegel [AR's founder] was the greatest man in the history of the world," and "In keeping Aesthetic Realism from you, the American press has committed a crime against humanity as much as if it deliberately kept from starving people the news that the food they needed was available for them." But, you know, as the AR people say on Countering the Lies, they're not a cult or anything.

    Of the AR people who signed this ad, a whopping 20 of them have since left and want nothing more to do with the group.

    Here's a reprint of the ad, with certain bits highlighted for emphasis. Enjoy.


From the Consultants and Consultants-in-Training

of Aesthetic Realism

Dear American People:

     We are writing this letter because what we have met in the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel is what every person is hoping for and has the right to know. The American press has kept Aesthetic Realism from you. For decades the American press has boycotted this education, which Eli Siegel founded in 1941.

     Sir, Ms., Friend—Aesthetic Realism explains truly the human self: it explains you and your relation to the whole world—to all (in Mr. Siegel's kind words) "that begins where our finger tips end." Because Eli Siegel understood what no other man of thought and certainly no psychiatrist understood—mind, art, and the world—Aesthetic Realism has enabled people, including us, to change in ways people everywhere and in all times have longed to change.

     Here are three principles of this great, ever so needed education, stated by Eli Siegel:

[1] Man's deepest desire, his largest desire, is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.

[2] The desire to have contempt for the outside world and for people and other objects as standing for the outside world, is a continuous, unseen desire making for mental insufficiency.

[3] The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites. [Self and World (New York: Definition Press), pp. 1, 83]


We Have Tested Aesthetic Realism

We have looked at Aesthetic Realism critically, terrifically critically. We have tested it. It is TRUE. Aesthetic Realism explains the cause of loneliness, depression, boredom, learning difficulties, pain in marriage—and can end these. It explains racism, and can end it. And yes, Aesthetic Realism explains the cause of war, and when the United Nations studies Aesthetic Realism (it can begin today) there will not be war. The cause of the cruelties and griefs we just mentioned is the desire for contempt, which everyone has. "Contempt," wrote Eli Siegel, "can be defined as the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it." Only in Aesthetic Realism is there the comprehension—and the beautiful effective criticism—of contempt.

     Some of us are Aesthetic Realism consultants. We have what we consider the most fortunate, useful profession there is: we teach Aesthetic Realism to individuals in consultations at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City and by telephone throughout America and elsewhere; and we teach Aesthetic Realism in classes and public seminars. The Aesthetic Realism Foundation is a not-for-profit educational foundation. The other signers of this letter are Aesthetic Realism consultants-in-training. We all study in classes taught by the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, Ellen Reiss.


The Reason for the Press Boycott

Soon twelve of us will tell some of what we have learned from Aesthetic Realism. But first we say this: Eli Siegel was the greatest man in the history of the world. His mind had the greatest scope and the greatest kindness; he was completely honest. This is why the press has kept Aesthetic Realism from you: press persons are furious that there are something and someone in this world they cannot look down on, even a little; they are furious that they respect Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism without limit and need to learn from Aesthetic Realism about everything. We ourselves, we say with shame, resented Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism because we respected them so much. There is nothing uglier than this resentment of what is great and kind and of what millions of people want so very much.

     Here, then, is some of what we have learned from Aesthetic Realism. In keeping Aesthetic Realism—in all its grandeur, all its kindness—from you, the American press has committed a crime against humanity as much as if it deliberately kept from starving people the news that the food they needed was available for them.


Why People Don't Like Themselves

1. Robert Murphy (Aesthetic Realism consultant): "I was a person who wanted to be everyone's best friend and at the same time saw people as fools, taken in by my charm; I acted as if I really ''had it together,' but inside I felt hollow, and thought the world was a bad joke. In an Aesthetic Realism lesson I had the honor to have in 1970, Eli Siegel explained why I didn't like myself. He said:

  • Everything we have against ourselves has to do with this first thing: one doesn't like the world enough. The thing that we have against ourselves is that we use our experience to build ourselves up falsely and not [see] meaning. Do you believe that you built yourself up by finding that your parents weren't worthy of you?

I am so grateful that my desire for contempt was criticized by Aesthetic Realism. Eli Siegel enabled me to have a life I cherish."

The Purpose of Love

2. Lauren Phillips (elementary school teacher): "I learned the most important thing about love from Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism: the purpose of love is to like the world. The pain and loneliness I felt for years because I thought love was a man making me the most important thing in the world, ended. Today I have proud emotions and a love for my husband, Bruce Blaustein, that come from using a man to like the world."


What Education is For

3. Lois Mason (Aesthetic Realism consultant and high school teacher): "I teach history in a public high school on New York's Lower East Side. I learned from Eli Siiegel and Aesthetic Realism what I most needed to know to be the teacher I hoped to be: the purpose of education—'to like the world through knowing it.' History, and every subject, shows the world can be liked because it has an aesthetic structure: it is a oneness of such opposites as freedom and order, individuality and relation, permanence and the moment. Learning this made me a successful teacher—enabled my students, many of whom had had great difficulty in school, to learn with pleasure and ease. I am among the many teachers who know through our own daily experience in the classroom that the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method is the answer to the crisis in education!"


The Change from Homosexuality

4. [name omitted, see note] (Aesthetic Realism Consultant): "After spending many years desperately looking for a way to change from homosexuality, I at last learned in the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel that homosexuality is caused by contempt for the world and women. Because of what I learned, my attraction to men ended, and I changed from homosexuality in six months. The life I have today as a married man who cares passionately for my wife, [name omitted, see note], her mind and body, I am proud to owe to the most beautiful education in the world and the kindest man who ever lived, Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel."

     [This person] is a co-author of the book The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel and the Change from Homosexuality. We say what history will say: the American press has blood on its hands, has caused misery and death, because for years it has withheld the news that men and women have changed from homosexuality through study of Aesthetic Realism.


Contempt Makes a Person Feel Burdened

5. Harriet Bernstein (typesetter): "I learned from Aesthetic Realism that I felt burdened and angry so much of the time not because, as I once thought, people made too many demands on me—but because I had contempt, which Eli Siegel described as the 'disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world.' This was so hopeful, because it meant I had a way of seeing people that made me feel ashamed, and this way of seeing could change. I am so grateful to Eli Siegel because the scientific and kind criticism of my contempt that I heard from Aesthetic Realism freed me to want to know and truly care for people."


When We Eat, the World as Food Becomes Ourselves

6. Meryl Nietsch (administrative assistant): "Before I began to study Aesthetic Realism, I was a lonely, bitter young woman who suffered for ten years with the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia. It was only in Aesthetic Realism consultations that I learned the cause of eating disorders—how they come from a way of seeing the world. My consultants explained: 'Bulimia is a way of managing, having the world please you but not affect you [deeply]; and anorexia is a means of having yourself pure, without any additions. Both arise from contempt.' Studying this exact description of my contempt and learning how to use food to like the world enabled me to have a self-respect and dignity as I eat food."


The Self Wants to Be Like Art

7. Edward Green (composer and professor of music): "As a person who once, shamefully, held the snobbish opinion that art was the possession of a select group of talented people, superior to other people, I am tremendously grateful to have learned from Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism that beauty is the most democratic thing in the world: it is what every person judges himself by without knowing it. 'All beauty is a making one of opposites,' stated Eli Siegel, 'and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.' This is the kindest and most ethically stirring principle I know, and it is the happiness of my life to have the privilege to study it."


How Should We See People?

8. Leila Rosen (high school teacher): "In Aesthetic Realism consultations, I learned that every person has the structure of reality in him: the opposites. When I began to see how my father—the person with whom I was so angry—was both bright and dark, gentle and fierce, sure and unsure, as I was, I felt for the first time that I could respect myself for my thought about him. My intense anger changed to greater kindness, to my father and all people."


There Are Two Kinds of Anger

9. David Bernstein (photographer): "When I learned from Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel that there are two kinds of anger—a wide anger in behalf of justice to the world, and a narrow anger in behalf of self-love—the anger that I felt would run me and I would be a slave to all my life, ended.  I began to have emotions, for people and things, that made me proud." 


What Guilt Is

10. Julie Jensen (Aesthetic Realism consultant): "I was born and grew up in Nazi Germany. I learned from Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism what I yearned to learn all my life: that guilt is an emotion to be respected, because it arises from the deepest thing in us, which tells us that whenever we're unjust to the outside world we have to be against ourselves. When I studied the opposites of justice and injustice, good and evil in myself, and how these opposites are in a whole nation and all people, it was the beginning for me to like the world and myself."


The Most Important International Question

11. Ruth Oron (essayist and translator): "As an Israeli, I learned from Aesthetic Realism the one solution to the agonizing crisis between Israelis and Palestinians., We must answer honestly this beginning question, asked by Eli Siegel: 'What does a person deserve by being alive?' As I saw that the Palestinian people have hopes and fears, feelings about their homeland as real as my own, my feeling of superiority and hatred toward them changed into a desire to be just." 


Liking the World on an Honest Basis

12. Anthony Romeo (architect): "I am eternally grateful to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism for teaching me that the world I once so angrily saw as so confusing has a structure I can honestly like: it is an aesthetic oneness of opposites. As I came to see, for instance, that heaviness and lightness, sweetness and severity are one in a beautiful building and that I am trying to put these opposites together in myself, my anger changed, and I felt for the first time that my life had meaning and the world was my friend."


We have much more to say about why Aesthetic Realism is the birthright of every human being and why studying it is the best thing that can happen to anyone. We come from every regiion in the United States and from six other countries: France, Argentina, Brazil, the USSR, Germany, Israel. In our careful opinion of Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism, in our love for them, we represent humanity We represent you. 

Additional bits

I omit the rest of the ad, because it's mostly a list of AR books and other ways to study AR and I don't feel like typing in all that tiny-print type. But let me include a couple of bits. This first one has the ad quoting from one of their books:

"With every cell in my body, I thank Mr. Siegel....My homosexual feelings stopped....In being close to my dear wife, in holding her in my arms, I have emotions more powerful and kinder than I expected to have ever in my life."

Pretty moving stuff, huh?! So what became of this person? Well, er, he kind of divorced his wife and left the group.


In another section they proffer the book Goodbye Profit System, based on Siegel's lectures championing socialism (and that's socialism in the true sense of the word, not the current idea where any attempt by Obama to increase any government service is dismissively branded as Socialism by the right-wing). AR even published a book in the 1970's based on Siegel's lectures called "Goodbye Profit System" predicting the fall of the free market system. (How's that working out?) Anyway, here's part of AR's summary of the book:

"Eli Siegel showed in a series of lectures what no other economist saw, and what is true now and for all time: A way of economics based on contempt for man—though it went on for many centuries—no longer works.....Eli Siegel's knowledge of history was unsurpassed, and he was humanity's greatest friend."


Finally, there's this bit, quoting Eli Siegel directly:

"According to Aesthetic Realism, the greatest sin that a person can have is the desire for contempt."

This is important because the AR people are trying to say that they see nothing wrong with homosexuality, that they merely helped people who wanted to change. The reality is that they viewed homosexuality as "the greatest sin that a person can have", because they believe homosexuality arrises from contempt. In their 1971 book on the subject, one of the "cured" says:

"Siegel said it to me many times: 'Get rid of your contempt and you will get rid of one of the chief ingredients in homosexuality." (p. 19)


Note: I omitted the names of people who left AR, because they no longer wish to be associated with it.


What's on this site

Cult Aspects

What is Aesthetic Realism?
An explanation about both the AR philosophy and the group that promotes it.

Cult aspects of Aesthetic Realism
Fanatical devotion to the leader, cutting off relations with families who aren't also believers -- it's all here.

AR and Homosexuality
The AR group used to try to "cure" people of being gay. They stopped that in 1990 because high-profile success cases kept deciding they were gay after all and leaving. AR has never said their gay-changing attempts were wrong.

AR's founder killed himself
AR's founder Eli Siegel killed himself, but the AR people have been trying to hide that fact. They can't hide any more, since enough former students have come forward to confirm the truth.

Attempts to recruit schoolchildren
Some AR members are public schoolteachers, and yep, they do try to recruit in the classroom.

How cults recruit new members.
Explains how a rational person can unwittingly get sucked into a cult group.

Mind control tricks
This article explains AR's use of Directed Origination, a classic tool for brainwashing. Also see the article where someone infiltrated the group to learn about their mind control methods.

Five reasons you can't trust an Aesthetic Realist
One reason is that most people who were in AR eventually woke up and got out. See more about this, plus four other reasons.

Lies Aesthetic Realists tell
They say they never saw homosexuality as something to cure. They say the leader didn't kill himself. They say my family left the group when I was an infant. These and more are debunked here.

Hypocrisy of the Aesthetic Realists
It takes some serious brainwashing for the members to not realize that they're guilty of what they accuse others of.

Aesthetic Realism glossary
We explain the real meanings behind the loaded language that AR people use.

AR in their own words

Actual AR advertisment
The AR people spent a third of a million dollars for a double-page ad in the NY Times to tell the world that the press' refusal to cover AR is just as wrong as letting hungry people starve to death.

Ad for the gay cure
AR bought huge ads in major newspapers to trumpet their ability to "fix" gays.

Actual letters from AR people
When a theater critic casually dissed Aesthetic Realism in New York magazine, the AR people responded with hundreds of angry letters, calling the article "a crime against humanity".

Actual internal meeting
The AR people blunderingly made a tape recording of a secret meeting they had, where they lambasted a member who had supposedly been "cured" of his gayness, but then found to still be cruising for gay sex. Their screeching hostility towards him is matched only by their fear that the secret will get out.

Actual AR consultation
For the first time the public can see what really happens in an Aesthetic Realism "consultation" (thanks to a former member sharing his tape with us). In the session the AR counselors tried to help the member not be gay, explaining that the path to ex-gayness was to express deep gratitude to AR and its founder.

Actual AR lesson
I had a lesson with the cult leader, Eli Siegel, when I was two years old, which, like everything else, they made a tape of. The highlight is Siegel taunting me with "Cry some more, Michael, cry some more!"

Ad in the Village Voice from 1962
The AR folks try to deny that they're a cult in this ancient ad -- showing that people were calling them a cult as far back as 1962!

AR responds to this website
The AR people have tried to rebut this website with their own site called Countering the Lies, whose title ought to win some kind of award for irony. Here we explain the story behind that site.

What former members say

Aesthetic Realism exposed
The ultimate statement by a former member, who was involved for well over a decade.

A tale of getting sucked in.
This former member describes exactly how he initially got drawn in, and how he then kept getting more and more involved.

Growing up in a cult. An ex-member who was born into AR tells what it was like growing up in the group, and how she got out.

Aesthetic Realism ruined his marriage. "I consider my 'study' of Aesthetic Realism to be one of the factors that led to the eventual breakup of my marriage, to my eternal sorrow."

On having all the answers. A former member explains how AR members think they have all the answers, and feel qualified to lecture others about how they should view personal tragedy.

Kicked out for remaining gay. Former students describe how they were kicked out of AR because they couldn't change from homosexuality. Ron Schmidt and Miss Brown.

"Leaving, however was only the first challenge.". One of the original teachers of Aesthetic Realism explains the cultic environment inside the group, and how she got out.

"If I disappointed them, then I now consider that a badge of honor." A former member tells how AR try to change him from being gay, and convinced him not to spend Christmas with his family.

"...people were controlled and humiliated if they stepped out of line...". The experiences shared with us by a member from 1974-80, now a Fortune 100 executive.

"I want Ellen Reiss questioned!" This former member wonders why there hasn't been a class-action lawsuit against the foundation yet.

They took his consultation tape. Describes how the AR people kept his consultation tape with his most intimate thoughts on it, and told him he couldn't study any more unless he incorporated AR more radically into his life.

"There isn't any question: Eli Siegel killed himself."
A former member who had sought AR's "gay cure" explains how the group's leaders admitted that the founder took his own life.

Confirms all the criticism. A former member from 1971-80, confirms that AR students don't see their families, are discouraged from attending college, and shun other members. He also offers that he was mistaken when he was involved about thinking that AR had changed him from homosexuality.

Michael Bluejay's description. Your webmaster describes his own family's involvement.

Members interviewed in Jewish Times. This lengthy article in Jewish Times quotes former students of Aesthetic Realism extensively.

NY Post article. A series of articles in the NY Post quotes many former members who are now critical of the group.

Aesthetic Realism debunked. A former student explains the cult aspects of AR. Posted on Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind website.

Other Goodies

Thinking of leaving AR?
If you're thinking of leaving the group, you're not alone. Let's face it: Most people who have ever studied AR have left -- and not come back. There's got to be a reason for that. Curious about what they figured out? Worried about the fallout if you do decide to leave? Here's everything you need to know.

Recovering from your AR experience.
People who leave cults often need special therapy to cope with what they went through. Whether you decide to seek counseling or choose to go it alone, here's what you need to know.

Media Reports
NY Mag called AR "a cult of messianic nothingness" and Harper's referred to them as "the Moonies of poetry". We've got reprints of articles, plus some help for journalists researching AR. (And here are shortcuts to the landmark articles in New York Native, the NY Post and Jewish Times.)

Site News / Blog
Here's some news and commentary that I add from time to time.

Share your Aesthetic Realism story!

If you did time in AR, had or have a friend or relative in AR, or had some other run-in with the group, I hope you'll share your story on this site. If you'd like to write something that you don't want to appear on this site, then please write directly to my email address instead.


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Aesthetic Realism at a Glance


The Aesthetic Realism Foundation




Eli Siegel, poet and art/literary critic.
Committed suicide in 1978


To get the world to realize that Eli Siegel was the greatest person who ever lived, and that Aesthetic Realism is the most important knowledge, ever.


The key to all social ills is for people to learn to like the world. Having contempt for the world leads to unhappiness and even insanity. (Their slogan is "Contempt causes insanity".) For example, homosexuality is a form of insanity caused by not liking the world sufficiently.

Also teaches that "beauty is the making one of opposites".


New York City (SoHo)


About 106 (33 teachers, 44 training to be teachers, and 29 regular students). Has failed to grow appreciably even after 70 years of existence, and is currently shrinking.

All members call themselves "students", even the leaders/teachers. Advanced members who teach others are called "consultants".

Method of study

Public seminars/lectures at their headquarters (in lower Manhattan), group classes, and individual consultations (three consultants vs. one student).

Cult aspects

  • Fanatical devotion to their leader/founder
  • Belief that they have the one true answer to universal happiness
  • Ultimate purpose is to recruit new members
  • Feeling that they are being persecuted
  • Wild, paranoid reactions to criticism
  • Non-communication (or at least very limited communication) with those who have left the group
  • Odd, specialized language.

  • More about cult aspects...


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Photo of Eli Siegel's gravestone from Find A Grave